A group of progressive Democrats in Congress has called on President Joe Biden to change US policy on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, stating that American aid should not be used to fund abuses of Palestinian rights. In a letter to Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, 14 lawmakers urged the US administration to investigate whether American weapons were used to commit rights violations against Palestinians and ensure that “US taxpayer funds do not support projects in illegal settlements”. The letter, led by Congressman Jamaal Bowman and Senator Bernie Sanders, marked a rare call from Congress for restricting the $3.8bn that Israel receives in US military aid every year.
The letter cited the killing of two American citizens by Israeli forces last year – Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh and Omar Assad, an elderly Palestinian-American who died after being arbitrarily detained. While the letter only garnered a relatively small number of signatures, progressive activists have described it as norm-breaking. Israel has traditionally enjoyed near unanimous, bipartisan support in Congress.
Palestinian rights advocates have long called on Washington to use its aid to Israel as leverage to pressure the Israeli government to end its abuses, including the expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank. Violence has escalated in Israel and the Palestinian territories in recent weeks, with Israeli forces storming Al-Aqsa Mosque and regularly conducting deadly raids in the West Bank. Palestinian gunmen have also carried out fatal attacks against Israeli settlers.
The far-right government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced condemnation from across the world earlier this year after Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said the Palestinian village of Huwara should be “wiped out”. Thursday’s letter accused ultranationalist officials in Netanyahu’s government of “pushing repressive, anti-democratic policies and escalating violence towards the Palestinian population”. The Democratic lawmakers noted that the Israeli government has continued to authorise settlement-building despite US objections.
Signatories include prominent progressives Rashida Tlaib, Cori Bush, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley as well as Muslim-American Congressman Andre Carson and first-term House members Delia Ramirez and Summer Lee. Betty McCollum, who previously introduced bills that would restrict aid to Israel, also joined the letter.
Leading rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have accused Israel of imposing apartheid against Palestinians. The letter came weeks after disagreements between Biden and Netanyahu played out publicly following a call by the US president for halting a judicial overhaul plan in Israel that critics have said would weaken the courts’ oversight of the government. The Biden administration has also criticised Israeli settlement plans, but US officials often stress that Washington’s commitment to Israel is “ironclad”. As a candidate, late in 2019, Biden dismissed conditioning aid to Israel as a “bizarre” idea.